Monday, April 22, 2013

At Israel's Holocaust Memorial

Hagel Lays a Wreath in Remembrance
04/21/2013 03:35 PM CDT
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
JERUSALEM, April 21, 2013 - On the first afternoon of two days of talks with military and government officials here, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel toured Yad Vashem, Israel's living memorial to the Holocaust, and in the Hall of Remembrance laid a wreath on a stone crypt containing ashes of Holocaust victims.
Hagel walked the solemn and evocative displays of the Holocaust History Museum with his son Ziller and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, later calling the institution "important, inspirational and beautiful."
Yad Vashem was established in 1953 as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's murder of 6 million Jews during World War II.
After Hagel's visit to the museum, he participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance, visited the Children's Memorial and signed the Yad Vashem guest book.
Then, sheltered by the building from a steady rain, Hagel took a few moments to speak with reporters and museum guests.
Thanking those who have made the institution possible, the secretary said of Yad Vashem, "I've brought my son Ziller with me on this trip and I particularly wanted him to accompany me here for this experience."
Such institutions and museums are created as a tribute to generations of the past and in particular victims of the past, he said, "but maybe more importantly these institutions are built to instruct future generations."
The secretary added, "They come together at an intersection that is important for all of us as one dimension or responsibility for each person. There is no more poignant, more touching, more effective way to tell a story than this reality, as painful as it is."
"We must prepare future generations in our time here for a clear understanding that we must never allow this to happen again."
After Hagel signed the guestbook, he read his inscription to the audience.
"For my friends of Israel," the secretary read, "thank you for this magnificent institution, reminding all mankind of the depths of evil but also the promise and hope and courage of man -- a beautiful and important tribute to those victims of the past and an instruction and reminder for the generations of the future. [Signed,] your friend, Chuck Hagel, United States secretary of defense."
Today's visit was part of a 6-day trip to the Middle East, Hagel's first as defense secretary. He will make stops in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates before returning to the United States April 26.
Chuck Hagel
Related Sites:
Special: Travels with Hagel
Yad Vashem

Related Articles:
Hagel: United States Committed to Israel's Security
Hagel's First Middle East Trip to Seal Historic Arms Deal

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Death Penalty in India:

“One hardly finds a rich or affluent person going to the gallows”

In November 2012, Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks, was hanged in the country’s first execution in more than eight years. Three months later, Afzal Guru was executed after his clemency petition was rejected by the President; Guru had been convicted in 2005 of being involved in the 2001 attack on Parliament.
More recently, the government has expanded the scope of the death penalty by amending laws to provide for this punishment in certain cases of rape.
The Supreme Court last week also rejected an appeal against the decision by the President to reject Devender Pal Singh’s mercy petition. In a trial that has raised serious fair trial concerns, Devender Pal Singh was found guilty of planning an explosion that killed nine people in 1993. His sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2002 and he has been on death row since.
The recent decision of the Supreme Court is likely to affect at least 17 more prisoners who are asking for commutation of their death sentences on the grounds of delay in the disposal of their mercy petitions by the President.
Justice A. P. Shah, a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, is one of the most outspoken opponents of capital punishment in the country. He shared his views on the death penalty in this interview with Amnesty International.
What is the state of the death penalty in India?
India has carried out only very few executions since the 1990s. However, the brutal gang rape of a 23-year old woman in Delhi last year intensified public calls for the imposition of the death penalty.
Why should India abolish the death penalty?
Whether an accused is sentenced to death or not is an arbitrary matter and depends on a number of factors, ranging from the competence of the legal representation to the interest of the central government in a particular case and the personal predilections of the judges.
It is beyond any shred of doubt that in India, it is the judges’ subjective discretion that eventually decides the fate of an accused.
Also, confessions and witness testimonies play a more vital role in India than in many other countries, given that forensic and other scientific evidence are not so frequently adopted here.
Most death sentences are awarded on circumstantial evidence alone. Even the use of professionally trained witnesses by the police is common.
Why do you say the death penalty is discriminatory?
In India, it is largely cases involving the poor and the down-trodden - who are the victims of class-bias - which result in an imposition of a death penalty. Here one hardly finds a rich or affluent person going to the gallows.
Therefore, it is apparent that the death penalty, as it is used now, is discriminatory. It strikes mostly against the disadvantaged sections of society, showing its arbitrary and capricious nature - thus rendering it unconstitutional.
You have expressed concerns about the execution of Afzal Guru, who was convicted of being involved in 2001 attack on Parliament in Delhi
Several disturbing trends emerge from his execution, which must be highlighted.
For example, the rejection of his clemency petition by the President on 3 February 2013 was kept a secret and was not communicated to his family. Afzal Guru was executed within a week without his family being informed and his body was buried secretly. There are also serious doubts about the quality of evidence and whether he was adequately represented legally during his trial.
What’s the future of the death penalty in India?
The global trend is increasingly and overwhelmingly in favour of abolition.
We would be deluding ourselves if we were to believe that the execution of a few persons sentenced to death will provide a solution to the unacceptably high rates of crime. In reality, capital punishment does not have any deterrent effect.
Justice A. P. Shah is one of 14 retired judges who last year called on the Indian President to commute 13 death sentences that, they maintain, were imposed in a manner inconsistent with the law.

Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013

04/17/2013 06:59 PM CDT                                                                   Thu, Apr 18, 2013 at 4:43 AM
First Lady Joins Maryland Governor at Veterans' Bill Signing
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md., April 17, 2013 - First Lady Michelle Obama joined Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley today at the State House here as the governor signed into law the Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013.
The Defense Department collaborated in development of Maryland's comprehensive bill, designed to streamline credentialing and licensing procedures for service members, veterans and their spouses.
"We have asked them to risk their lives in combat, manage dozens of peers, operate complicated machinery, oversee millions of dollars of assets and save lives on the battlefield," Obama said. "And then, when they come home, we're also asking them to repeat months of training for skills they've already mastered. So we have to ask ourselves: how does this make sense?"
The first lady said enacting the bill represents more than merely "eliminating a few bureaucratic headaches" for veterans and their spouses.
"This is about improving the financial security for thousands of military families," Obama said. "It's about giving veterans and their spouses an opportunity to build their careers and create a better future for their children."
As part of their Joining Forces initiative, in February, the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, addressed the National Governor's Association as part of a call to action to bring millions of veterans into the civilian workforce.
"With the Iraq war over [and] the war in Afghanistan winding down, more than a million service members are going to be hanging up their uniforms and transitioning back to civilian life," Obama said. "And that comes on top of the hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses already out there looking for work."
While the first lady noted much progress in veterans' employment over the past few years, she acknowledged that there is still more work to do. As of March 2013, roughly 783,000 veterans were unemployed and looking for work, including 207,000 post-9/11 veterans.
"We need more businesses to make big, bold commitments to hire and train our veterans and military spouses," Obama said. "We need more hospitals ... colleges and employers from every sector to recognize our veterans' and military spouses' unique skills and experiences and give them a fair shot at a job."
Prior to the bill-signing, Obama visited the U.S. Naval Academy, where she ate lunch with midshipmen and met with a number of health care professionals who have served the country for years and mastered highly technical, high-demand skills.
Introducing the first lady at the State House was 23-year Navy veteran and former Senior Chief Petty Officer Andrew Heit, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while on active duty. Heit said he experienced anxiety about pursuing a degree.
"Even though I served this country for more than two decades as a radar tech, an avionics electronics technician and an avionics instructor, I was unable to receive even a single college credit with all of my military experience and numerous formal training courses I completed on active duty," Heit said. "Legislation that's being signed today will ensure the well-deserved recognition of our country's veterans' efforts of service and acknowledge their military experience and their formal training received while serving our country."
The legislation, Heit emphasized, will remove the barrier of time.
"It will help shorten the time required to complete the desired degree by allowing credit for the often-expensive knowledge [veterans] have gained during their military service," Heit added.
Maryland joins a growing list of states that have taken legislative or executive action to help service members, veterans and their spouses get the credentials they need to successfully transition to the civilian labor market.
"Your bill here in Maryland is one of the best bills we have seen in the entire country," Obama said. "You're helping our veterans obtain professional credentials ... earn college credit ... and making it easier for military spouses to continue their careers as they transfer to your state."
O'Malley also addressed the plight of veterans before signing the bill.
"These individuals should never come home, after overcoming all the barriers they have for us, and face barriers to employment, barriers to licensing, barriers that prevent them from keeping a roof over their children's heads and providing them with a loving home with economic security and dignity."
Related Sites:
Joining Forces

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Face of Defense:

Army Civil Engineer Serves in Afghanistan

By Karla Marshall
Army Corps of Engineers, Afghanistan Engineer District South

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, April 1, 2013 - Linda Murphy said her passion to use her expertise to help Afghans improve their quality of life caused her to trade-in her designer pumps for some steel-toed boots.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Afghanistan-deployed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civilian employee and civil engineer Linda Murphy, right, meets with Afghan Minister of Energy Ishmael Khan as part of her duties as the Afghanistan Engineer District-South Water and Infrastructure program manager. Courtesy photo

Murphy is a civil engineer, and she serves here as chief of the Water and Infrastructure Project Management Branch with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Afghanistan Engineer District South.Competition spurred Murphy from a young age, she said.
"My best friend and I were always competing in math grades and science fairs," she said. Those experiences, she said, taught her the value of working hard, living up to promises and commitments, and doing her best.
So following her dream, she said, was not scary or particularly difficult.
"I liked architecture but my best friend's dad was a Purdue University engineering alumnus and he convinced many of us from our high school to go into engineering at Purdue," Murphy said.
Pursuing engineering at Purdue was a logical choice for Murphy, who said she figured out in high school that she wanted to be self-sufficient. Murphy reasoned that attaining a science, technology, engineering and math degree would help ensure that her future was wide open and that she'd always be employed.
After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., Murphy began her career as an engineer with the USACE Louisville District in Louisville, Ky., in 1983.
Working her way up through the ranks at her home district, Murphy was chief of the Civil Project Management and Programs Branch of the Louisville District when she deployed to Kandahar Airfield in January 2012.
"Now that I had gotten both my daughters off to college as fairly self-sufficient women, I decided to deploy to provide assistance to the women and men of the coalition forces and particularly to the women and men of Afghanistan," she explained. "I knew that I could contribute to the mission and grow as a person at the same time."
One year later Murphy doesn't regret that decision and she has opted to extend an additional nine months to manage one of the South District's most challenging programs. She leads a team of project managers who oversee construction projects that directly contribute to the improvement of Afghanistan's infrastructure.
Water and electricity availability, bridges and roads, university facilities and medical clinics all fall under Murphy's purview and leadership.
"I have never been one to back down from a challenge," she said. "Working in Afghanistan has broadened my experiences, allowed me to do something outside my comfort zone, and given me a greater appreciation for what I have back home."
In addition to a successful career with the Corps of Engineers, four of Murphy's best female friends are also engineers at the Louisville District. Having that core group of friends, Murphy said, has made her career a rewarding one.
"For young women, engineering probably doesn't seem like a very glamorous career but if they are given opportunities to see engineers at work, ask questions, and are encouraged to enjoy math and science, more would probably show interest," Murphy said. "I am grateful that my core group of friends shares a similar background with me. As women who are engineers, we look for opportunities to mentor younger women and share our careers with them."
The important thing is to be passionate about what you want to do, Murphy said. For her, coming to Afghanistan has enabled her to continue her passion. She believes that she and her fellow women engineers deployed to Afghanistan all serve for a common purpose and goal which emulates the Corps of Engineers' motto, -- Essayons, which means "Let Us Try."
"We are daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, mothers, and even grandmothers -- coming together here for one cause -- to make a contribution for a better future for not only the women of Afghanistan but for everyone here," Murphy said. "And like our Corps' motto states, -- we will try. We will try our hardest." 
Related Sites:
NATO International Security Assistance Force